Hyderabad: Six of the eight Indian students, most of them Telugus, were sentenced to varying durations of imprisonment on charges of exploiting the US student visa system.
The eight were charged in January with conspiring to commit visa fraud and harbouring aliens for profit, following an investigation by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
According to an email communiqué from Khaalid H Walls of the Department of Homeland Security, all the eight defendants had pleaded guilty. “All but two have been sentenced,” he added.
While Barath Kakireddy (29) of Lake Mary, and Suresh Kandala (31) of Culpeper were sentenced to 18 months, Santosh Sama (28) of Fremont was imprisoned to 24 months, Avinash Thakkallapally (28) to 15 months, Aswanth Nune (26) of Atlanta to 12 months, and Naveen Prathipati (26) of Dallas to 12 months.
The sentencing of Phanideep Karnati (35) of Louisville was scheduled for January 2020 and that of Prem Rampeesa (26) of Charlotte to November 19.
According to the indictments unsealed in January, from February 2017 through January 2019, the students had “conspired with each other and others to facilitate hundreds of foreign nationals to illegally stay and work in the US by actively recruiting them to enrol into a metro Detroit private university, named the University of Farmington, which, unknown to them, was operated by HSI special agents as part of an undercover operation.
“As part of the scheme, the suspects assisted foreign citizen students in fraudulently obtaining immigration documents from the school and facilitated the creation of false student records, including transcripts, for deceiving immigration authorities. The illegal documents obtained as a result of the conspirators’ actions were based on false claims and statements and fraud since the purported foreign students had no intention of attending school nor
attended a single class and were not bona fide students,” the indictments read.
“All participants in the scheme knew that the school had no instructors or actual classes. The defendants intended to help shield and hide their customers — “students” — from US immigration authorities for money and collectively profited in excess of a quarter of a million dollars through the scheme,” according to US Attorney Matthew Schneider.